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India tops world as Bihar raises death toll by 72%

Friday, 11 June 2021 | Archana Jyoti | New Delhi

Updation raises Bihar’s Covid deaths by 4,000, India’s daily deaths to 6,148

Turning true the apprehensions that the States were officially underreporting the Covid-19 death toll, the Bihar Government has revised its figures by a whopping 72 per cent as it added nearly 4,000 unreported and unaccounted deaths to the tally. This led Bihar’s toll figures cross the 9000-mark and India’s day tally to 6,148, making it the highest single-day spike so far globally. The US had recorded 5,444 Covid deaths on February 12.

A livid Centre is now mulling directing all the States to revisit their death data.

The Nitish Kumar Government’s new additions took the State’s death tally to 9,429 compared to the figure of 5,500 cited earlier. The revised death figures include people who succumbed to the disease at home or in private hospitals. The period for which the revision was undertaken hasn’t been specified but was conducted on the orders of the Patna High Court as the second wave rampaged.

A HC bench of chief justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar on May 18 had, while pointing out the inconsistency in figures of deaths in Buxar where 81 corpses were found floating in the Ganga,  sought details of both Covid and non-Covid deaths in the State.

The difference in the recorded number of cremations as per Covid protocols by municipal corporations and the death figures compiled by State Governments as per hospital records has been differing in different States.

Dr Sunil Kumar, Indian Medical Association Bihar State secretary, did not rule out the actual figure going further up as the State was still considering only the positive reports of the rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests as the yardstick. He pointed out that there were many who just did not go for any tests and were in home isolation or others who tested negative in rapid and RT-PCR tests but were positive as per chest scan.

“The data collected in the rural areas is also very weak and so is the level of awareness. We apprehend that the death figures could go higher… A large number of people remained in home isolation and those deaths are not reported in the absence of test reports,” he pointed out. The toll is likely to increase further as the data provided by many private hospitals and crematorium grounds are yet to be verified, he said.

Echoing similar views,  Dr Lokesh Tiwari, Deputy Medical Superintendent, AIIMS, said, “These are institutional figures. The actual number of deaths could be higher in remote areas. Even updating the data later is important to understand the real death numbers, mortality rate.”

Experts and social activists have been time and again asserting that the number of infection and deaths could be on the higher side as most have gone unreported, either because people did not come forward or officials hid them under the carpet while many deaths must have occurred due to post-Covid complications.

“Under-reporting is a widespread problem, not necessarily deliberate, often because of inadequacies,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told a news agency. He added, “In the rural context, whatever states may say or claim, testing is not simple, easy or accessible.”

Dr R K Dhamija, head of neurosurgeon department in Lady Hardinge Medical College, agreed saying that coronavirus infections and deaths may be underestimated across the country partly as test facilities are rare in rural areas, home to two-thirds of India’s population and hospitals are not enough. “Then people are also unaware about the disease,” he pointed out adding that many have fallen ill and died at home without being tested for the virus.

The uptick in mortalities has made the Opposition in Bihar to sit up, with Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav slamming Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for “hiding the death figures”. The Bihar Government has now promised to take stern action against the erring officials and others responsible for hiding the exact number of deaths in the state.

Similarly, the main Opposition Congress party has called for a review of deaths over the past two months in other States too.

“This proves beyond a doubt that the government has been hiding Covid deaths,” said Shama Mohamed, Congress spokeswoman. “An audit should also be ordered in the big states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.”

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